Can Adrien Broner Save Boxing?

Adrien Broner takes on Carlos Molina during a super lightweight bout on May 3, 2014 in Las Vegas.
Adrien Broner takes on Carlos Molina during a super lightweight bout on May 3, 2014 in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller / Getty Images

It seems strange to say that a sport in which a single fight can gross $150 million has a dying fan base, but since MMA has hit television — snatching up just about every would-be boxing fan under 30 — that has been the case. The number of broadly anticipated bouts is fast approaching zero, and pay-per-view fees have turned out potential converts of only casual interest, or presumably, not $80 worth. That’s why NBC’s new fighting showcase, Premiere Boxing Champions (Saturday at 8:30 ET), is the best news the sport has had in a very long time. That Adrien "the Problem" Broner will be in the ring, facing John Molina Jr., makes it even better.

Mark Jacobson profiled Broner last May for Men's Journal and found a brash 24-year-old whose significant hobbies were posting night-life exploits online (see: stripper, cunnilingus), tone-deaf baiting of his detractors, and a grating insistence that he was the next Mayweather; Floyd’s "lil bro," as he put it. When the undefeated welterweight received a unanimous-decision pummeling at the heavy hands of Argentine brawler Marcos Maidana, it seemed a classic tale of wayward pride and unfocused energies come to boil (he claimed he refused to watch any tape in preparation). But to see him in his deeply unsexy online videos or in his web series, About Billions, might eventually give the impression of a man who but slenderly knows himself. The swagger he presents does not always appear to come naturally to him. It has the tic-ish quality of a second-rate actor trying to steer himself into a role. The oft-flogged Mayweather line may be a marketing ploy, but it also speaks to an abiding weakness, however small, that so-called maturity has yet to winnow out.


Still, Broner has the chance to capture some serious momentum. He has an id-like, off-kilter charisma similar to Tyson’s, and like Tyson, a surprisingly high-pitched voice. His boxing trunks skirt (and sometimes they resemble one) the bounds of sanity and good taste. He wears gold grill bling to the post-match. He bounced back from the Maidana loss with two handily won unanimous decisions, bringing his record to a remarkable 29-1 (22 by knockout). He is, by all accounts, one of the fiercest trainers in the sport. Then again, he hasn’t quite shed his instinct for self-sabotage. In declining what he considered a low-ball offer from Roc Nation Sports in January, he unwisely called upon Jay Z to suck his dick with an elephant tongue, then followed up with: "Fuck [Roc Nation recording artist] Rihanna. She don’t make me no dollars. At the end of the day she gon’ give me some pussy and that’s it." (He later taped a halting, wilted apology.)

"I got to stay me because that’s who I am," he told Jacobson. One thing’s for sure, whatever Broner shows up Saturday night will the Broner for a long time to come.